The Iron Writer Challenge #16

surfboardThe Iron Writer Challenge #16

2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #16

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Annmarie MilesDrake EdisonGuy Anthony De MarcoTony Jaeger

The Elements:

 A Surfboard

A radiator

A clothes line

A monastery

Never Judge a Monk by Its Plumber!annmarie miles

Annmarie Miles

Dougie savoured the last few drags of his cigarette. It was the only downside to his regular trip to the monastery – absolutely no smoking in or outside the building. On the upside, he’d be very well fed today; nothing fancy but well prepared meals, most of the ingredients home grown. More often than not he’d leave with armfuls of fresh produce. Dougie had been a self-employed plumber for more than twenty years. The regular answer to his wife’s enquiry about his day was, “seen one radiator you’ve seen ‘em all honey.” But the monastery was a very interesting place to work.

Today was his quarterly visit to check the heating, plumbing and do any other odd jobs required. The Brothers would make a list between visits and Dougie would spend the day fixing, mending, painting – whatever needed doing. Landing the monastery contract was a gift. Though he knew old Brother Francis, in his Aussie accent would have said “a blissing.” Brother Francis was the oldest and he thought, the nicest of all the Brothers. He was a cheerful, gracious soul. He would bring Dougie drinks, ask about his family and make sure he left with plenty of homemade jam. If Dougie mentioned someone who’d been ill or had problems, Brother Francis would always remember the details. He’d have been praying fervently for that person and would check with Dougie how things were the next time he came.

Dougie drove up the lane that connected the back of the monastery’s land to the road near his house. It was a handy shortcut that he only found by accident. As was often the case, the first sight that greeted him, apart from the monastery itself, was a washing line. Most times it was full of either bed linen or dark brown habits. It occurred to him once that he had never seen any underwear on the washing line. He mentioned it to his wife and with a dead pan expression she replied, “They must dry their smalls in private.” Dougie almost choked on his dinner, spitting potatoes and peas everywhere. He still laughed at the thought of it and hoped one day to happen upon what they’d labelled “the small private room”; but he never did.

This visit was however was to reveal something. Dougie needed to go to Brother Francis’ room to fix his chair. One of the legs was coming loose. He was working on the chair and caught his finger with the plyers. This made him jump and he knocked the books off Brother Francis’ bedside locker. Faded photographs spilled out across the floor. As he picked them up he spotted one that shocked him. It was a photo of 3 men on a beach. All toned and tanned, with long shaggy blonde hair, each holding a surfboard. Dougie was stunned to find such photograph in Brother Francis’ possession, but as he looked again he thought he recognised someone. The man it the middle; it was Brother Francis.

Talent InterviewDrake Eidson

Drake Eidson

Could you explain how the talents come to be?

No. So far as we can tell, the manifestation of the talent is both random and indiscriminant. It may pass down a family tree or only appear once in the entirety of a family’s genetic history. Race, religion, gender, age, and other demographics are equally unimportant. There are Americans, Asians, Africans, and Europeans: every race is represented. The fact that there are more Asians with the talents is purely because there are more Asians on the planet. I like to think of it as someone winning the lottery, there is no pattern.

So what happens when the talent actually manifests?

Basically, they are removed from their homes and sent to live among monks in a monastery, as pupils. There are four monasteries, one for each talent, located in the place best suited to educate their students. I would tell you where, but its kind of a secret. As soon as they arrive, their proficiency with their talent is tested. Some can perpetually spin a stone dreidel, while others can drive themselves forward on a surfboard without so much as a wave. After the little test, they are placed in one of four tiers where they will be educated until they can be elevated to the fifth tier, which is graduation. In the first tier, one must garner more control over their talent. In the second tier, one must garner mastery over their talent. In the third tier, one must garner mastery over their attribute. For the final tier, one must garner mastery over the other three attributes.

Attributes?

The monks believe that the Earth was born and then given four attributes; the earth then had children, or humans, and passed these attributes on to its children. Each talent is associated with an attribute: passionate fire, restrained earth, tranquil water, and free wind. At the core of their belief system is the idea that once someone has mastered these attributes, and can balance them evenly, then and only then, can they truly feel existence. The road to mastering these attributes is fraught with failure and anguish, but once one has reached the end, it is that much more satisfying.

How long does this mastery normally take?

It really just depends on the person. People from all ages arrive at the gates of these monasteries, you have children with minds ready to be molded and you have forty year olds who are stuck in their ways and simply can’t change.

Are they forced to stay there until enlightenment?

Yes. Until they are complete, they cannot leave.

Is there a security system in place?

The monks themselves, they would sooner clothes line a pupil than let them leave.

Isn’t that a bit inhumane, taking and keeping people against their will?

The monks are cheery enough, radiators of kindness I would say, and their sole purpose in life is educating those with the talent to bend the elements, not to abuse their gift. It’s needed.

War CrimesGuy Anthony De Marco

Guy Anthony De Marco

“All-American athlete Mick Ross, blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfing champion, thought he had it all. He was a dominator on the surfboard and a dynamo with the beach girls.” Staff Sergeant Miller switched the slide to show a handsome, grinning face. “He was no match for the Great White that ripped his arm off at Diamond Point in 1940.”
Miller changed the projected image to a horrific medical nightmare, smirking at the reaction of his audience. Generals rarely saw the damage their orders caused, and the black and white image was a stark reminder.
Brigadier General Hughes was the first to recover. “How’d he survive that wound?”
Miller cleared his face of emotion and snapped to face the grizzled Marine. “We don’t know.”
Hughes waved his hand. “Continue your report.”
Nodding, Miller changed the image to a peaceful stone structure surrounded by gardens. “We know Mick dropped out of his lifestyle within months, ending up at Aadheenam, a Hindu monastery recently set up on Kauai. He felt abandoned, and when the money dried up, he began to hate the United States.”
A muffled series of explosions made every eye turn towards the reinforced concrete wall opposite of the projector. Hughes finally broke the subsequent silence by grunting around his ever-present cigar.
“Mr. Ross smuggled in a radio set, using a metal clothesline as a signal radiator.” Miller brushed the displaced dust off of his shoulders, a futile gesture as more explosions in the distance caused another shower from the light fixtures. “He was convinced his comments about invading the west coast were reaching the Axis powers, letting the listeners know how vulnerable we were with the seventh fleet deployed to Australia.”
A larger concussion stuck the room, knocking over the crystal water glasses on the table.
“There goes Colorado Springs,” muttered the newly-minted Army one-star.
Hughes had half of his cigar in his mouth, and the other half jabbed at the Army officer. “None of that. Sit down and shut up.”
The one-star sat down and folded his hands on the table, keeping his eyes towards the ceiling.
Miller’s bladder kept reminding him how much coffee he had gulped before the meeting and just how scared he was at the moment. With his commanding officer glaring at everyone who twitched while he pulled out a fresh cigar, he knew better than to show fear.
“The area around the monastery is high in metallic compounds, so we think that’s what distorted the radiation pattern and attracted the enemy. They hit Los Angeles and San Francisco hard, using some kind of weapon that wiped everything out with a single explosion in the middle of each city.”
A mountainous mushroom cloud filled the screen. “The invaders began to land their ships all along the coast. While Mick Ross began this event, he had no idea how it would end.”
A deep, warbling thrum pulsed the atmosphere.
“We got company,” said Hughes. “We need to kick them green-skinned things off the planet. Regroup in Omaha. Dismissed!”

Brother Maximillian On HiatusTony Jaeger

Tony Jaeger

Brother Maximillian moaned. Chanted, whatever; he had never been good with official terminology. He knelt on a plank of painted, waxed wood and settled into his morning prayers. As he meditated on God, the Holy Virgin, and the angels, he dipped his feet into the water, hoping a fish would latch onto one of his toes, like in a Disney movie.

Through the calm of his meditation his ankle itched furiously, rubbed raw by the clothesline tethering him to the wooden plank. He imagined it a similar sensation to the cords digging into the ankles of someone being crucified in days long gone. All said, Brother Maximillian greatly preferred to be kneeling under a dark, starry sky, rather than on the stone floor at the monastery of Saint Bastard (patron saint of not owning a cushion), huddled around an ancient radiator for warmth during morning prayer.

He’d been going by Brother Max, feeling it more akin to the SoCal state of mind, but most just called him “Bro” (pronounced “Bruh”). Brother “Bruh” Maximillian cursed himself for not leaving the monastery (which was actually for Saint Bartholomew, not Saint Bastard) sooner. There were so many things he found that he’d been missing out on, within those hallowed halls. He’d never before seen the ocean, or been buffeted by an oncoming wave crashing on the sandy beach, nor a woman dressed as scantily as seemed the fashion. But most importantly, he had never fulfilled his childhood dream of going surfing … .

The sun broke over the horizon behind him as he finished his meditation. He shifted into a sitting position and dipped his legs into the cold, calm water. It would be a long while before the water warmed, and waves of a respectable size (the smaller ones were mocked at Wave Academy) would roll in, but he didn’t care. He untied the cord belt around his waist and let his brown hempen robe hang open to reveal a pair of red, floral-patterned swim trunks. A school of fish passed beneath him, he would have sworn he felt one brush past his calf, but swearing is frowned on by those On High.

It wasn’t long into the sun’s stroll across the sky that he was joined by others, mostly tourists and children learning to swim. There were, to his delight, other surfers. He watched them, learned from them, and built up the courage enough to stand on his board and begin riding smaller waves. He fell with embarrassing frequency, but with each successive lungful of water he felt as though he was drowning in happiness (which is much less dangerous than drowning in water).

A smile lit up his face as he decided he would never return to Saint Bastard’s, his first genuine smile in a great many years. He didn’t know what he would do, but whatever it was, Max knew he would never again be far from the ocean.

 

The Iron Writer Challenge #15

ThereminThe Iron Writer Challenge #15

2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #15

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Annmarie MilesDani J CaileJim TumlitySimon O’Kill

The Elements:

A Theremin

A single super power

An Elegy

A Wooden Water Tower

Strength from Withinannmarie miles

Annmarie Miles

Meryl stood at Jem’s bedroom door. He was a new born the last time she felt this helpless as a mother.

She could hear the weird music. He was watching those old horror sci-fi movies again. It wasn’t a good sign. The eerie wailing had worried her when she’d heard it first, but she eventually recognised the sound of a Theremin; falsifying an atmosphere of mystery and impending doom

It didn’t need falsifying today.

It had been 3 days since she’d seen him. He hadn’t come out of his room to eat or use the bathroom, or if he did she wasn’t aware. The only reason his dad hadn’t broken the door down is that eventually, Jem would answer their pleas for response with a grunt to be left alone.

Meryl knew he was drowning in guilt; she was devastated for him and felt powerless to help him.

It wasn’t his fault.
It wasn’t anyone’s fault.
Jem & Carl often spent their time exploring old Jennings’ farm. They’d learned to fish in his river, he let them pick apples in his orchard. Every so often he’d pay them to paint or clear the yard. He was a bit of a loner but the boys never caused him any trouble and he liked them.

But it had all gone wrong when the boys did the one thing he’d asked them never to do. They couldn’t see his truck in the yard and thought he was out. So they climbed the frame of the dilapidated wooden water tower. When Jennings saw them from a distance it never occurred to him that it was Jem and Carl. He got his shotgun and started firing in their direction. He didn’t want to hit them; he just wanted to scare them to get them down.

It worked. Carl got such a fright he almost let go. Jem grabbed him and pulled him up.

“Thanks buddy, we better get outta here.”

As they went to move, the beam that Carl was leaning against gave way and Jem watched him fall to the ground.

At Carl’s funeral Jem read a goodbye letter to his best friend. It was a heart wrenching elegy of friendship, regret, anger and guilt. Jem had not spoken a word since that day.

That was 2 weeks ago and now he was locked away in his room.

Meryl was about to walk away again but a voice somewhere inside stopped her.

“Meryl, you are his mother!
You are his mother and he is your child.
If you can’t get through to him no one can.
You can save him, you can help him.
You ARE strong enough.”

She was filled with determination and strength. Power surged through her veins as she knocked at the door.

“Jem, it’s Mom. Please open this door – right now.”

Meryl stood in her new found power; the power of a broken-hearted mother

Jem heard it in her voice.
He stood up and walked to the door.

“Whoops”Dani-J-Caile

Dani J Caile

That damn theremin of his, why does he always have to bring it out every time we have guests? I’d like to shove that little talent cup trophy right down the throat of those judges who voted him ‘best act’ at the local community centre all those years ago when we first came to the area. Just like his father before him, always getting it out and doing the wavy muso bit looking so pompous and self-important! And why does he have to play those pieces which are so bleak and mournful? Always so depressing like some turgid elegy. Oh, thank God, he’s finished! Now’s my chance.

“Darling, don’t you think it’s time our guests moved onto the terrace now, have a few drinks in the cool evening air?”

“Oh but Daphne, I haven’t played my masterpiece yet, my pièce de résistance.”

No, please, not that one, I’ve heard it almost every night for the past forty-seven years! Why did I marry this man?

“Oh, Daphne, yes. Please let us listen, we’re dying to hear George’s masterpiece.”

I’ll die if I have to hear that dross one more time!

“Yes, please, Daphne. And can I have another cucumber sandwich? They’re rather delicious, I think.”

If only I had a super power or something to stop this scourge! Turn invisible and disappear, able to run away from the role of devoted and loving wife. Be able to turn back time and stop his father from buying the damn RCA in the first place. Or have super human strength and bring down that old wooden water tower at the end of the block, causing a massive deluge which would flow down the street and everyone’ll need to evacuate! Perhaps the water would even damage the thing and he wouldn’t be able to play it ever again! But no, I am the loyal and good-natured housewife, I have superhuman endurance to suffer the blows and misfortunes a husband can give, I am his most endured host and trusted love. I have the power to withstand all he can deliver. What? Is he finished? Is it finally over?

“Bravo, dear boy, that was excellent, bravissimo!”

“Excellente!”

Polite applause this time. Better get some drinks ready for the terrace.

“And now, for my finale, I will play a brand new piece, never played before!”

What! Now hang on a minute!

“Darling, don’t you think it’s time for drinks? On the terrace?”

“No, no, I must show our guests my new jewel, my new…”

“But darling…” Damn wires! They’re all over the place…whoops.

“Oh!”

“Oh dear me!”

“I…I…darling…!”

The ambulance came as quick as it could, considering the congestion on the main highway. One of our guests tried resuscitation after clearing his body from the equipment with a broom, but there wasn’t any real chance of saving him. I guess you shouldn’t mix semi-sparkling rosé wine with electricity. It’ll be quiet without him, though of course, the theremin will hold a central place on the mantelpiece.

No LedgeJim Tumilty

James Tumilty

Here’s a random fact for you. You ever see the movie ‘Forbidden Planet’? An old schlocky sci-fi show. It has Leslie Neilsen in it before he decided to become the head honcho of goofiness. Well, that soundtrack? Contrary to popular belief, it didn’t use a Theremin. At this point, you’re likely quirking an eyebrow and wondering what the hell this idiot is wittering on about. Said idiot being me.

Did you ever wish that you had a super power? I did, constantly. I ruined more of my parents’ bedsheets prancing around pretending to be Superman than they were really comfortable with. It turns out that the phrase ‘Be careful what you wish for’ isn’t just a plot device for teen drama. I got my wish. It just turned out to be a little more different than I would have liked. My super power is useless trivia.

I can hear you now, “That’s not a super power.” And I’d be inclined to agree with you, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve yet to get a question wrong on a quiz show. This also seems to have an interesting side effect on others, in that it is incredibly irritating. If the quiz in question happens to be in a bar, well… Let’s just say that alcohol and irritation can lead to some less-than-savoury experiences.

You see, it turns out that another phrase, “Nobody likes a smart-ass” is also very relevant. It was never intentional, honest. Thing is, when these so-called facts want to come out, they do. They are like a body dumped into one of those old wooden water towers; they float to the surface and explode in a socially-awkward jumble. That, and everyone around me thinks there is something off about it. They spill forth, the words tripping each other up as they force themselves into existence.

This brings on a crushing isolation. People just want to avoid spending time with the guy who’ll tell them that their favourite TV character is actually a rip-off of an obscure Scandanavian character. They all just walk away, leaving me more familiar with people’s backs than their faces. Honest to goodness, I can tell gender, ethnicity and age from a brief glance at someone from behind. And all this because of a wish. It turns out that your hope has power, more than you could possibly imagine. Like any power, it can be devastating.

No, I don’t know how it happened. I just woke up one morning and was able to rhyme off information. Maybe I spent too much time reading Wikipedia. All I know is that now I know too much. So long story short, this is my elegy. I’m no Coleridge, but I do what I can. This is the lament of my life. Not the physicality. Not the soul. The social.

One last thing, trivia is also Latin for ‘where three roads meet’. Bet you didn’t know that.

The Day Phantom Bigfoot Stood StillSimon O'Kill

Simon O’Kill

Phantom Bigfoot skipped across the mating glade with three of his Bigfoot Babes squealing and snorting behind him. They entered the great forest of their ancestors and trudged to Little Beaver River. There they all used the strange invigorating properties of the mating water. Phantom Bigfoot had a dream many moons ago where a tall blond pale one told him the water was special – he called it a simple super power – whatever that was. So long as it continued to get him horny, Phantom Bigfoot didn’t give a ffffff what it was called. It sure tasted good, but not as good as happy juice. Phantom Bigfoot sighed as images of all three of his Bigfoot Babes wild on happy juice pleased him so many times his thruster was red raw for three suns.

At the mating glade, heavy with the scent of honeysuckle, Phantom Bigfoot urged his Bigfoot Babes to the special place. The special place was a derelict settler’s home from so many moons past, Phantom Bigfoot decided not to waste precious mating time on it. As the sun caressed the ridge of gentle sloping foothills, its weakened rays slicing between the remnants of a stone chimney stack and a dilapidated wooden water tower now covered with ivy, Phantom Bigfoot got down to the serious business of the mating ritual.

“Wooowoooowooooo,” bleated all three Bigfoot Babes, swishing their hips to some internal rhythm of nature’s design. Well not really as Bigfoot Babes love to salsa shown to them by their friendly pale one, Doooane.

“Woooeeeeeoooooeeeeeeoooooo,” howled Phantom Bigfoot in reply to the mating call. As all three Bigfoot Babes hunkered down with hindquarters raised a most peculiar sound interrupted the proceedings. Phantom Bigfoot was most put out at this untimely interference. He let out a ferocious snarl, “Eeeeaaaaaarrrrraaaaarrrrrr!” To Phantom Bigfoot’s utter dismay, all three Bigfoot Babes stood rock still, mewling pathetically and pointing skyward.

As Phantom Bigfoot’s thruster lost its desire. He stood still looking at the source to see a strange doughnut-shaped object hovering above them. Attached underneath the silver doughnut were two shiny prongs, quivering with unearthly power. The object drifted almost to the grass level, swirling the green blades into a flattened circle. A silver footpath extended from the doughnut. A massive steel creature stomped forth. It stopped and looked all around with shining eyes. Another creature emerged, this pale one was old and bent with white hair. He walked up to a terrified Phantom Bigfoot and bowed.

The old man introduced himself in a language that Phantom Bigfoot could understand, “Do not fear Gort. I am Leon come to make music with you on Theremin.” Leon detached the device from the doughnut and ran his hands over it creating a sad elegy of electronic whines.

By now Phantom Bigfoot and his Bigfoot Babes had quite enough of this crap and ran away with hands to ears, squealing.

Leon Theremin sighed, shrugged and stepped back into his steel home, “That used to knock them dead, Gort?”

The Iron Writer Challenge #14

ZIL-111V

The Iron Writer Challenge #14

2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #14

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Iron Writer Challenge Big Bang!

Challenge 14 is a little different than previous challenges. Last February, Victoria Dougherty invited me, along with 5 other authors, to participate on her blog by writing a 500 word flash fiction piece, consisting of 4 elements. She gave us  6 weeks to write the story and the 500 word limitation was more or less a guideline.

From that invitation, The Iron Writer was born. As Victoria was posting her stories over a six week period (one per week), I asked her if I could post those stories here, as a challenge, when her blog tour was finished. After receiving permission from each of the other authors, she agreed. So here they are.

Six Authors!

Four Elements!

500 Words (give or take)!

The Authors:

A B BourneB Y RogersGerald EliasJeff Cohen

Sam ThomasSheila Webster Boneham

The Elements:

A 1959 ZiL III

A dead Gypsy

A Swordfish

A jug of moonshine

Dead to Me in Paris

A.B. Bourne

 c. 2013 all rights reserved

 In the large pool at the center of the Luxembourg Gardens, white triangles chased one another in the Parisian breeze, some with reckless disregard for maritime rules, and some bent on revenge.

Outside the Gardens, Pierre LaFontaine rushed across the street, carrying a brown paper bag.  The side of his knee grazed the bumper of an odd looking black limousine.    Annoyed, Pierre kept walking.  He did not want to keep his mother waiting.  The thin gold hands on his Patek Philippe showed ten minutes after 1:00pm.

Pierre was 32 years old, 5’ 10” and slightly built.  When he reached his bench he lifted the edges of his grey worsted wool trousers and sat down.  He placed the bag beside him and took out the coffee cup.  Steam fumed from the sharp plastic edges of the spout.

“Walking with a cup,” he thought.  “So American.”

*****

Before Pierre had bumped into the limousine, its passenger was already watching him from the back seat of the 1959 Zil-III.  The Russians originally built a few of these for their leaders, first making the cabin bulletproof, bombproof, and flip proof and then fastening on the chassis, engine and wheels.  In the ‘90s they auctioned them off.

The passenger’s hair was grey, his skin sallow.  He bore the marks of more years than he had actually lived.  When he saw Pierre go through the gates, the man raised the revolver like an index finger.  He drew a small circle in the air.   Around again.

*****

Pierre watched the children sail their boats.  He thought of Frederick, nine months old, threatening to crawl.

“We will sail boats here, Freddie,” he murmured.  “We will.”

Pierre heard the leaves rustle in the dense shrubs behind him.  The smell of sour skin, pine needles, garlic, bourbon and beer, reached him before he saw her.

“Madame, bonjour,”  Pierre called.   Over his shoulder, a short mound moved in the bushes.  She wore layers of brown fabric, and on her head grew a long and tangled nest.  The whites of her eyes were startling clean patches at the center of her muddy, creased face.   She looked unsteadily at Pierre, then lifted a jug to her lips.  Pierre stared off through a wrought iron gate in the garden wall.   As he watched, a rectangular black limousine rolled by.

The gypsy retreated, but left her strong scent.

Pierre slid his hand into his coat pocket and cupped the folded envelope into his palm.  Concealing it against the cup, he put both in the paper bag, and left that on the bench.  Then he walked back to the bank where younger men would bring him real espresso in white porcelain.

From behind the leaves, the dirty woman watched him go.

Days later, Pierre strolled to the same bench at ten minutes after one.  An ambulance was parked on the maintenance path near the shrubs.

“Dead gypsy,” said the man with thin blue latex gloves over his wrists.   “Usually it’s the drink.  Pardonnez-moi, sir.”

Pierre watched him lay the body on the stretcher.  He saw at her elbows, now drawn out flat, the fabric’s original bright streaks of blue, red and yellow paisley prints.  Then the sheet covered her.

Pierre turned away, his Italian leather shoes crunching shards of the ceramic jug.  “Au revoir, maman,” he whispered.

That was when he noticed the brown paper bag under the bench.  It was the same one he had left for her, but now it bulged.

Pierre unrolled the top and reached in.  He felt something soft.

*****

That night when the elevator opened into the foyer of Pierre’s apartment, he heard laughter in the nursery.

“Watch this,” Maria said when she saw her husband at the door.

Once Pierre had won, as a joke award from the bank, “Sidney the largemouth swordfish.” It was a fake fish mounted on a piece of wood which would open its mouth and slap its tail when someone clapped.

Maria did so, and the fish obliged.  Freddie tipped his head back with peals of laughter and tried to bring his little chubby palms together too.

Pierre bent down to get close to Freddie’s beautiful face.  He touched his boy’s little earlobe, where a fluke of birth had put a cleft in it.

“I have something for you,” he said, holding out a small stuffed bear.  It was thirty years old and its nose was gone.

Freddie clapped for it, which made Sidney slap and gawp, which sent the boy into fits.  Laughing, Pierre stood up and kissed his wife.

Freddie started to cry.

“He wants the bear,” said Maria.

Pierre nodded, but kept the bear in his hands.  Turning his back to the boy, he grasped the bear’s head and ripped it clean off.  Slowly, he stuck his fingers deep into the stuffing.  When he pulled out his fist, Maria saw three large diamonds, and a ruby.  Pierre blew the stuffing off them, and walked over to Sidney.

“Clap Freddie!” he said.  When his son made the fish open its mouth, Pierre dropped the jewels inside.  They rattled when they landed on the pile.

******

The passenger put his revolver flat on the back seat of the ZiL.  His hands trembled as he opened the folded envelope, stained by coffee and filthy fingerprints, and extracted a photograph.  It was of a nine month old boy.

As the ZIL drove on, tears leaked from the passenger’s eyes.  One found the edge of his nose and dripped over his lip.  The other slipped from the outer edge of his eye.  It slid along his cheekbone and down to his earlobe, where a fluke of birth had put a cleft in it.

A Cold Forest NightB Y Rogers photo

B Y Rogers

c. 2013 all rights reserved

Vysotsk, Russia

Winter, 1960

Midnight

Demyan waited in the back seat of his chauffeured 1959 ZiL-III, strumming his fingers on the arm rest. It was cold, the wind was howling outside the armored vehicle and he was tired. But his time in the field was measured, or so he believed. Soon, he hoped he would spend his days at the Politburo and his nights wherever he chose.

He couldn’t see the hamlet hidden in the trees. But the agent knew the safe house was secure, having spent many a night like a great many agents before him, seducing an endless stream of Bond girl wannabes. He smiled at the memory of the stuffed swordfish mounted on the wall above the bed. It has always been a source of inspiration.

But those days were long past for him. This assignment was different.  This mission involved an unarmed American with a proclivity for large breasted women; hence the use of the sanctuary that was scheduled to be consumed in an accidental forest fire in the spring.

It was time. If the gypsy woman had done her job by now, the American would be turned. He would have no other choice. He stepped out of the car, closing the door quietly. His driver knew his job. The car eased itself silently down the dirt road to wait. Demyan turned his collar up and followed the short path into the forest.

A hundred yards away, he opened the door and peeked in. The lamp on the night stand was on, but what he saw was alarming. A jug of moonshine lay broken on the floor, its contents, tainted with hallucinogens intended for the American, was still draining between the floor boards. His agent, a gypsy from Belarus, was naked on the bed with the upper jaw of the swordfish completely buried between her ample breasts. The swordfish’s fin nearly touched the ceiling. He went to the girl but there was nothing he could do for her. Sensing danger, he backed out of the room and walked down the path, triggering the transistor radio in his pocket.

Half a mile away, his driver was on the ground, the last of his blood soaking the grass beneath his face. A light blinked on the dashboard inside the car. A gloved hand put the transmission into drive.

Demyan watched his ZiL approach. He lit a cigarette, as much for warmth as to signal the driver it was safe. When he noticed the car window was down, his head screamed for him to run to safety. He pulled his weapon, emptying the magazine toward the car as he ran as he ran up the trail.

Out of breath, he plunged into the cabin, slamming the door behind him. He spun around, knowing he had to turn the lamp off before his assailant arrived. Then he saw the American laying on the bed, the swordfish pinning him to the mattress. The gypsy was gone.

Snagged

Gerald Elias

c. 2013 All Rights Reserved

Shielding rheumy eyes from sea-reflected morning sun, Old Pavel strained to see what had snagged his line. For as long as he had fished off the long-abandoned pier he couldn’t recall the water so low. Impatient, Pavel yanked too hard and his ancient pole snapped in two.

Cursing, he traced his ruined gear to a thin cylinder gleaming just above the surface. An antenna, of all things! Dropping the butt end of his useless rod, Old Pavel hopped over rotting planks to the tobacconist’s where there existed a functioning telephone. Now that no one was a communist anymore he wasn’t so afraid to call the police.

Victor Maravich, Krinitsa’s police chief and a week from retirement, thought he had seen everything, but his shoulders sagged upon recognizing the muck-covered Soviet-era ZIL armored limousine that the crane sucked from the seabed. He had no need or desire to look inside the rusted wreckage, but to make it official he did. After, he trudged through the drowsy resort town and up the hill toward Sergei’s tree-shrouded dacha with its commanding view of the beach, hoping he would die first.

General Sergei Borshevsky awaited him at the door. Still tall and powerful, tufts of gray curls escaped his armpits and the collar of his white T-shirt. Red suspenders held up baggy, wool pants.

“Come and sit, Victor,” he said.

The table was bare but for the dusty jug of Kentucky moonshine that Castro had laughingly bestowed upon Borshevsky as a parting gift. As an emissary sent personally by Chairman Khrushchev, the general had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Castro to stare down the trigger-happy Kennedy who threatened to blow up the world. By the time of his recent retirement, the medals pinned to Borshevsky’s chest would buckle a weaker man’s knees.

He poured two glasses.

“We started this jug in ’62 and now we empty it, together,” Borshevsky said. His mouth smiled but his eyes remained sad.

Maravich, studying the incomplete eight-foot-long fish, iridescent blue and silver, mounted over the fireplace, ignored the glass and the comment.

“I always wondered why that swordfish had no sword,” he said.

After some time a buzzing fly punctuated the silence.

Borshevsky drained his glass.

“I risked my life, my country, the whole world. And what do I find the night I return from Havana? My wife in my bed with a gypsy.”

Maravich gestured sympathetically.

“Neither of them saw me—they were copulating like dogs. I broke off the fish’s bill and skewered the pair of them, together, piled them in the limousine and drove to the pier. Lights off, in neutral. I pushed them over the edge. The sea was much deeper then. The next day I declared the pier off limits.”

“We heard rumors that Tanya absconded with someone and your limo, but we never found a trace.”

“Never listen to rumors, Victor.”

“You started them, Sergei. But…wouldn’t it have been easier to just shoot them?”

“And dishonor my pistol?”

The afternoon sun grew uncomfortably hot.

“So, what are you going to do, Victor?”

“It’s not my decision. It’s yours. As is your pistol. Good-bye, Sergei.”

Grandpa Got Run Over by a Swordfish

Jeff Cohen
c. 2013 All Rights Reserved

The gypsy was dead. Luckily, it was a gypsy moth, and nobody cares about those.

The rest of the scene wasn’t quite as easy to take, though: lying on the floor was a swordfish mounted on a supposedly wooden board. If you touched the bottom of the plaque, the fish would appear to sing “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” which made no sense at all. Why would a fish sing that?

Next to the mounted fish, which had one corner that was now covered in blood, was a jug of Moonshine, the latest in a weird line of cleaning products meant to look “down home,” manufactured by Smyth and Weston, a huge conglomerate which would be starting a search for a new CEO. Ronald Smyth (pronounced “Smythe”) was lying on the rug with a very large hole in the back of his head where someone had hit him with the singing fish.

“You just found him like this?” asked Detective Regina Levitton, a tall, imposing woman carrying a notebook and a gun (notebook in her hand, gun, thankfully, in her shoulder holster).

“Yeah,” I told her. “I came by to see Hannah, his granddaughter, to return her screwdriver. I live next door.”

“Was there anyone else here?” Levitton asked, not an expression on her face.

“Not that I saw, although there was a 1959 ZIL-III Soviet-made armoured limousine parked in the driveway when I walked over.” Levitton stared at me a moment. “What? I’m a buff, okay?” Some people don’t understand hobbies.

“A buff.” Levitton’s interrogation style seemed to consist of looking skeptical. It wasn’t doing much for me, but I’m an amateur. “The uniformed officers on the scene didn’t report a 1959 armoured limousine in the driveway.”

I shrugged. “I guess whoever drove it here left before the cops arrived.”

“Do you know anyone who owns a vehicle like that?” the detective asked.

I shook my head. “Never seen one like it before. I figured it was here because he—”—I pointed at Smyth on the floor—“was a big wheel in business.”

These days, anyone can be a detective as long as they have an iPhone. Levitton was furiously punching away at hers. “There is one in this state, registered to a Harcourt T. Weston.”

“The dead man’s partner,” I noted.

Beat, two, three… “The man most likely to benefit from Smyth’s death,” the policewoman said. Geez, Sherlock! Ya think?

“Maybe,” I said. “I was just returning a screwdriver.”

But Levitton was already thinking three steps ahead; her eyes were practically spinning in their sockets. “You can go,” she said. “Thanks for your help.” It’s always that way.

I stole another glance at Smyth, dead on the floor, his head pooled in blood. I shook my head. The waste.

That’ll teach you and your partner to put cleaning products in moonshine jugs! My father would still be alive today if not for you and your partner—I hope he rots in jail.
Assholes.

Captured

Sam Thomas

c. 2013 All Rights Reserved

Day 952: Captured.

Day 945: The torture begins.

Day 942: They tell me that they have caught my brother Raul as well. I don’t believe them.

Day 941: They bring me the ring my brother always wore. His finger is still in it.

Day 930: Maybe they’ve forgotten about me. I sit in my cell with other men and wait.

Day 900: The others are being taken away. The guards say they are being sent to the United States. I don’t believe it. I stay in the cell.

Day 505: They take me to a small room and handcuff me to a metal table. A captain from intelligence comes in carrying a thick file. He shows me the name on it. It is my real name, not the one I gave to my interrogators. I’m fucked. He tells me that they have a plan for me. If I cooperate, they will set me and my brother free. I tell him to fuck off. He does.

Day 500: The captain comes back. He explains the plan. I tell him I’m in. To save my brother. To avenge the fuck up at Playa Girón.

Day 307: The doctors work on me for months, and soon I’m healthy enough to leave the hospital. They take me to a camp in the mountains where I begin training. They know I can shoot, but after a year in prison I need to knock the rust off. The instructors are Russian, of course. The others in my squad are from the invasion. I wonder what they were promised, but never ask.

Day 275: We practice different shots with different rifles. Long shots at a stationary target, shorter ones at a walking target.

Day 252: Today they began to train us in explosives, but we know that’s a waste of time. No way we get close enough for that. At night they bring us a jug of moonshine. We sit around a fire, drink and talk.

Day 173: Today we practiced shots at a moving car, a Russian limousine with the top cut off. They put a dummy in the back seat, but I take a shot at the driver. I felt good when I saw the splatter of blood on the windshield. The trainers were pissed, but what could they do? The driver was some gypsy they’d pulled out of prison. Who the hell else was going to drive the car?

Day 15: My turn. We hide the rifle inside a mounted swordfish – what else? – and I fly to Mexico City. The captain who recruited me meets me there. They’ve got someone set up to take the fall.

Day 11: I spend an eternity in the hotel, waiting, waiting, waiting. I take out the gun and clean it. The swordfish looks at me as if it’s my fault he’s been nailed to a board and had a rifle stuck up his ass.

Day 4: I cross the border. No problem.

Day 2: Dallas.

Day 0: Bingo.

Missing Gypsy

Sheila Webster Boneham

c. 2013 all rights reserved

Someone is out to get Alberta Shofelter. They’ve egged her new SUV and sprayed “crazy cat lady” across her garage door. The diminutive calico she took in three weeks ago has been missing since last night, and Alberta is sure “they” have escalated to catnapping. I shove my cell into my pocket and watch Jay try to comfort Alberta. She isn’t quite weeping, but the little noises she makes are heart-rending.

“If anyone can find her, Jay can,” says Alberta, leaning over to press her forehead into the top of the dog’s muzzle. “You have to find Gy….” Alberta chokes on her cat’s name, turns wide, wet eyes my way. “She’s pregnant, you know.” I did not. Jay and I follow Alberta to her car without speaking.

Half an hour later we’re at Alberta’s house. Jay gets a good noseful of Gypsy’s favorite spot on the couch while I try not to stare at the ginormous swordfish hanging askew over the mantle.

Alberta leans her hip into an antique sideboard and asks if I’d like a drink. It’s not yet noon and I think she means water. I remind her that I swigged half a bottle on the drive over. She shrugs, says “Suit yourself,” and wraps her hands around a half-gallon mason jar that I assume is decor until she lifts it to her lips. She swallows twice, squeezes her eyes closed, smacks her lips. “Tennessee hooch,” she says. “Gift from a friend.” We head out.

Jay hits the ground pulling and we angle across the front lawn, the one next door, the next. Alberta struggles to keep up with me, and I struggle to keep up with Jay as he shoulders into his harness, nose to the ground. I have to trust that he’s on the right trail.

“Gypsy never goes out anymore! Someone must have come in and kidnapped her,” says Alberta between gasps. “They hate, me, you know, because I feed the poor strays that live behind the club house.”

I shorten the line linking me to Jay as we approach the street. Alberta bumps into me at the curb, clutches my arm.

“Who hates you?” I ask.

“But how can they hurt an animal?”

“Who?” I ask.

“Golfers. They claim the cats leave dead things on the greens.” She snorts. “It’s their damn kids out there with BB guns do the killing, and they know I know it, too!” She coughs. “They shoot the cats, too.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” I say. “Gypsy may have just slipped out. You said you had a plumber there this morning, right?”

Alberta looks past me and the distress painted across her face changes to anger. As I turn to watch a big black car roll by, Jay starts to bark.

“That’s them,” Alberta says.

“That’s the ugliest car I’ve ever seen.” Anxiety is tight in my gut and I almost laugh for relief. “Looks like one of those clunky things Khrushchev used to ride around in.”

“What have you done with my cat?” Alberta screams at the car. It picks up speed.

Jay dances around, whining. We cross the street. He pulls me up a driveway and across a cushy back lawn, head up. He’s no longer tracking, but he might have a scent on the air. We’re running now, and Alberta can’t keep up. Jay goes into a sniffing-whining frenzy at the door to a shed and pushes against it. I reach for the latch, expect it to be locked. It swings open.

The interior is dim and dusty. An old armchair leans into the back wall, a cat stretched across the upholstered seat, her back to us, tail hanging limp off the edge of the chair. I signal Jay to lie down, hold my breath, step to the chair.

“Oh no!” I turn just as Alberta slides down the doorframe. I can barely hear her whisper, “Is she dead?”

I lean over the chair. Breathe. Gypsy squints at me and opens her mouth in a silent meow.

“She’s fine.” I run the back of my finger along a tiny black back, then the tabby, then the calico. I touch Gypsy’s cheek. “But we’re going to need a carrier to get them all home, Grandma.”